Diabetes in children and adolescents
Type 1 diabetes is the most common metabolic disorder among children. It is not clearly understood what triggers the disease. Researchers suspect genetic causes that are intensified by environmental influences.
Children and parents are often caught unaware by the diagnosis. Following the initial shock, urgent questions arise such as:
- Is there something we could have done to prevent this disease?
- How will we be able to cope with this chronic disease in our day-to-day lives?
Important fact: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is not triggered by eating too much or consuming too much sugar. It cannot be prevented or cured. However, there are very effective treatments available today thanks to modern therapies and medications.
Therapy for type 1 diabetes
Personal responsibility plays an enormous role in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. The healthcare professional will prescribe the therapy, which the parents and children – depending on their age – must then take "into their own hands". This means that:
- Blood glucose must be measured several times a day.
- The carbohydrates contained in each meal must be calculated, as well as the associated insulin dose that will be required.
- The insulin is injected into the subcutaneous fatty tissue with an insulin pen or administered using an insulin pump.
Parents and children receive thorough training in these procedures and are then regularly supervised. You may have a team of diabetes specialists, diabetes counsellors, and psychologists on your side, providing you with active support in your day-to-day life.
There are two available therapies for the treatment of type 1 diabetes:
- Multiple Daily Injections (MDI) and insulin pump therapy (CSII).
Therapeutic goals include:
- Metabolism stabilization with blood glucose levels in normal range – without frequent hypoglycaemic emergencies. This provides for long-term prevention of diabetes-related secondary diseases.
- Greater flexibility and quality of life because children should not feel limited by their disease.
Due to the fact that Multiple Daily Injections (MDI) is often unable to adequately meet these goals, more and more children and adolescents are being treated with insulin pump therapy.
Assistance in your day-to-day life
Children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes want to lead a normal life just like every other child. They are just as capable and don't want to be treated differently at school or in sport. For parents it's often like walking a tightrope: On the one hand they want to raise their child to be self-sufficient, while on the other hand they feel the need to constantly protect and check up on their child with diabetes.
Experts advise parents to include their child in his or her diabetes therapy, as well as in diabetes training, as soon as possible. Have children do as much as they can and then support them wherever they're not up to the task. It is also important to make sure that you don't overwhelm the child with too much responsibility too soon. Parents should always help their children and "coach" them, even in the case of adolescents. There are no fixed rules, no set age, as to when a child should begin administering his or her own therapy.
Kindergarten and school
Educators and teachers often have little or no understanding of type 1 diabetes. From a legal standpoint, they are not permitted to take on any role with respect to therapy, i.e. they are not permitted to administer insulin injections. In order to ensure constructive cooperation it is important to:
- Build trust,
- Inform the staff at the school or kindergarten about diabetes,
- Provide concrete examples of how educators and teachers can support your child.